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How to provide public comment during April 16 State Water Board Probationary Hearing

California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB)  
Virtual Speaker Card for April 16 Hearing for the Consideration of a Probationary Designation for the Tulare Lake Subbasin

On April 16, 2024, the State Water Board will hold a hearing to consider designating the Tulare Lake Subbasin as a probationary basin under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). 

Public Board Hearing
April 16, 2024, at 9:30 am
 

In-Person Location 

Coastal Hearing Room 
Joe Serna Jr.– CalEPA Headquarters Building
1001 I Street, Second Floor Sacramento, CA 95814 

How to provide public comments remotely:  
– Fill out a virtual speaker card using our online form
– The Board Clerk will respond to your form with Zoom login information for the hearing.  
– Should you have any questions or problems please send an email to: board.clerk@waterboards.ca.gov
– You will not be able to join the Zoom meeting until you submit this form and receive an email response from the Board Clerk.   

How to watch the hearing online: 
If you do not wish to provide a comment, you can watch the hearing webcast in English or Spanish at: https://video.calepa.ca.gov

View the public hearing agenda

More information:
– View the public notice for more background information.
– View the Final Tulare Lake Subbasin Probationary Hearing Staff Report
– A shorter Executive Summary is also available in both English and Spanish.
– Visit the Tulare Lake Subbasin webpage: bitly/swb_sgma_tulare_lake and the Board’s general SGMA webpage

Questions? Contact the SGMA Program at sgma@waterboards.ca.gov or 916-322-6508.
Tulare Lake Subbasin
Map of the Tulare Lake Groundwater Subbasin

State Water Board Probationary Hearing Set for April 16, 2024

Probationary Hearing – April 16, 2024

On Tuesday, April 16, 2024, the State Water Board will hold a public hearing to consider designating the Tulare Lake Subbasin as a probationary basin under SGMA.

Please see the Probationary Hearing Notice for more information on how to participate in these events.

Groundwater Sustainability Agencies

Groundwater Sustainability Plan

California Department of Water Resources Determinations

Notice of Opportunity to Provide Feedback, Public Staff Workshops, and Public Board Hearing for the Proposed Designation of Tulare Lake Subbasin as a Probationary Basin

State Water Resources Control Board

NOTICE OF OPPORTUNITY TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK, PUBLIC STAFF WORKSHOPS, AND PUBLIC BOARD HEARING FOR THE PROPOSED DESIGNATION OF TULARE LAKE SUBBASIN AS A PROBATIONARY BASIN

A copy of this notice in Spanish can be found at (Este aviso está en español en): bit.ly/swb_sgma_tulare_lake

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN

The California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board or Board) will hold a public hearing at which it will consider designating the Tulare Lake Subbasin as a probationary basin pursuant to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The hearing will include time for public comments and Spanish interpretation will be available. Participants can provide comments during the hearing in-person or via Zoom. Participants can also follow the instructions below to provide written comments. Additionally, there will be a watch-only webcast option for viewing the hearing. The State Water Board will hold the public hearing at the time and location noted below.

Public Board Hearing
Tuesday, April 16, 2024, at 9:30 a.m.

In-Person Location
Coastal Hearing Room
Joe Serna Jr.– CalEPA Headquarters Building
1001 I Street, Second Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814

To Participate Virtually and Provide Oral Public Comment During the Hearing
Before or on the day of the public Board hearing, fill out a virtual speaker card using our online form at bit.ly/speaker-card-form. The form will not accept responses until a few days prior to the public hearing. The Board clerk will respond with Zoom login
information in advance of the meeting. For more information about participating remotely, please visit bit.ly/providingcomments.

To Watch Only and Not Provide Comment
The English and Spanish webcast of the public hearing with closed captioning can be accessed at video.calepa.ca.gov.

PROVIDE FEEDBACK ON STAFF RECOMMENDATION
The State Water Board will not make a decision about a probationary designation for the Tulare Lake Subbasin until the public hearing described above; however, State Water Board staff have developed a draft recommendation for the State Water Board to consider, which describes the actions staff recommends the State Water Board should take. We invite your input on the draft staff report no later than December 11, 2023, at 12:00 noon. Staff will consider all comments received by the December 11, 2023, at noon deadline when developing the final staff report.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR SUBMITTING WRITTEN COMMENTS
Persons interested in submitting written comments on the probationary notice or draft staff report are encouraged to submit electronic comments. All written comments must be received no later than December 11, 2023, at 12:00 noon. Please use the subject line: “Comments – Tulare Lake Subbasin.”

Electronic Comments:

Written comments may be submitted electronically via email in pdf format (if less than15 megabytes in total size) to SGMA-TulareLake@waterboards.ca.gov. If the file is greater than 15 megabytes in size, the written comments may be submitted by fax at (916) 341-5620, in multiple emails, by mail, or hand delivery.

Mail/Hand Delivery:

Comments submitted by mail or hand delivery must be addressed as follows:

Courtney Tyler, Clerk to the Board
State Water Resources Control Board
1001 I Street, 24th Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814-0100 (hand delivery)
P.O. Box 100, Sacramento, CA 95812-2000 (mail)

Mail must be received (not postmarked) at the State Water Board office by December 11, 2023. All hand-delivered submittals must arrive and be date and timestamped prior to December 11, 2023, at 12:00 noon. Couriers delivering hard copies of comment letters must check-in with lobby security personnel who will contact the Clerk to the Board at (916) 341-5611.

If you would like a copy of the written comments submitted on this subject, please send a request to SGMA-TulareLake@waterboards.ca.gov identifying the subject listed above. Copies of written comments will not be available until after the comment deadline.

PUBLIC STAFF WORKSHOPS PRIOR TO PUBLIC PROBATIONARY BOARD HEARING

Staff will also hold two public staff workshops to explain the draft staff report and share more about how to participate in the State Water Board’s state intervention process. Staff will also accept verbal public comments on the draft staff report at the workshops. While a quorum of the State Water Board may be present, the State Water Board will not take regulatory action at the workshops.

Virtual Staff Workshop
Friday, November 3, 2023
11:00 AM – 1:30 PM

Staff presentation will start at 11:00 AM
Staff will begin accepting public comments at 12:00 PM
Zoom link: https://kearnswest.zoom.us/j/86732195332

In-Person Staff Workshop
Wednesday, November 8, 2023
6:00 PM – 8:30 PM

(No internet viewing option; in-person only)
Staff presentation will start at 6:00 PM
Staff will begin accepting public comments at 7:00 PM
Hanford Civic Auditorium
400 N Douty Street,
Hanford, CA 93230

LANGUAGE ACCESS

Spanish language interpretation will be provided at the public staff workshops on November 3 and 8, 2023, and at the public Board hearing on April 16, 2024. To request interpretation in another language or sign language services, please submit your
request by the following deadlines: October 20 for the November 3, 2023 virtual public workshop, October 25 for the November 8 in-person public workshop, and April 2 for the April 16, 2024 public Board hearing. Submit your request using one of the following options:

ACCESSIBILITY

The Hanford Civic Auditorium and the CalEPA Building are both accessible to persons with disabilities. Individuals requiring special accommodations are requested to call (916) 341-5261 at least 5 working days prior to the meeting. Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) users may contact the California Relay Service at (800) 735-2929 or voice line at (800) 735-2922.

PARKING

November 8, 2023 Public Staff Workshop:

Public street parking is available on Douty, Irwin, and Eighth streets adjacent to the Hanford Civic Auditorium.

April 16, 2024 Public Board Hearing:

For directions to the Joe Serna, Jr. (CalEPA) Building and public parking information, please refer to the map at www.calepa.ca.gov/headquarters-sacramento/location.

All visitors to the CalEPA Building are required to sign in and obtain a visitor badge at the Visitor Services Center located just inside the main entrance (10th Street entrance) of the lobby of the building. Valid picture identification may be required. Please allow up to 15 minutes for receiving security clearance.

BACKGROUND

SGMA and State Intervention

SGMA (Senate Bill [SB] 1168, Assembly Bill 1739, and SB 1319) requires local groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) to develop and implement groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) so that the many uses of groundwater can continue into the
future. If local GSAs do not propose an adequate plan to sustainably manage groundwater use in their basin, SGMA gives the State Water Board authority to protect groundwater resources through a process called “state intervention.” State intervention
is additional to local management and is intended to be temporary, lasting only until local agencies demonstrate an adequate plan to manage their respective basins.

Inadequate Groundwater Sustainability Plan and State Intervention Trigger

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has designated the Tulare Lake Subbasin as a high-priority basin that is subject to critical conditions of overdraft. The GSAs for the Tulare Lake Subbasin adopted a groundwater sustainability plan for the Subbasin on January 29, 2020, and submitted the plan to DWR for review.

On March 2, 2023, DWR determined the GSP for the Tulare Lake Subbasin to be “inadequate.” The DWR inadequate determination of the Tulare Lake GSP triggers “state intervention” with the State Water Board. (Wat. Code, § 10735.2, subd. (a)(3).)

Effects of a Probationary Designation

After state intervention is triggered in a groundwater basin, the next step is for the State Water Board to consider making a probationary determination for the basin. This is done through a public process that includes the probationary public hearing
discussed in this notice. If the State Water Board designates a basin as probationary, GSAs have time to address the issues (deficiencies) that caused the basin to go into probation while the State Water Board will focus on data collection and analysis to better understand what management challenges are occurring in the basin.

To acquire the necessary data, the State Water Board can require extractors (groundwater pumpers) to install meters to measure and report their groundwater extractions accurately. Alternatively, the State Water Board can specify other means for
measuring and reporting groundwater extractions. (Wat. Code, § 10735.2, subd. (c)(3).)

Extractors must report all groundwater extractions annually to the State Water Board and pay reporting fees to cover the cost of Board activities, except where excluded by SGMA or the Board. (Wat. Code, § 5202.) The State Water Board may also conduct investigations and gather data necessary for sustainable groundwater management. (Wat. Code, § 10736.6.)

Local agencies have at least one year from the probationary designation to resolve the deficiencies identified by the State Water Board. If, after a year, local agencies have not resolved the deficiencies, the State Water Board may develop an interim plan to manage groundwater use in the basin. An interim plan is intended to be a temporary measure to protect groundwater until effective local management is in place. Adoption of an interim plan would only occur after public notice and a public hearing.

SIGN UP FOR UPDATES
Subscribe to our Groundwater Management email list to receive updates related to State Water Board actions under SGMA. See the “Stay Informed” section on the State Water Board’s SGMA website, http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/sgma

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Find information on state intervention in the Tulare Lake Subbasin at the State Water Board’s Tulare Lake Subbasin webpage bit.ly/swb_sgma_tulare_lake.

For questions regarding the workshop or this notice, please contact us at SGMA@waterboards.ca.gov or at (916) 322-6508.

For more information about the State Water Board’s role in SGMA, visit: www.waterboards.ca.gov/sgma.

October 12, 2023

Date Courtney Tyler
Clerk to the Board


TULARE LAKE SUBBASIN PROBATIONARY HEARING DRAFT STAFF REPORT EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

October 2023

The mission of the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) is to preserve, enhance, and restore the quality of California’s water resources and drinking water for the protection of the environment, public health, and all beneficial uses, and to ensure proper water resource allocation and efficient use, for the benefit of present and future generations. The State Water Board is committed to racial equity and working towards a California where race no longer predicts a person’s access to, or quality of, water resources.

In 2014, the state Legislature passed the historic Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) that established a new framework for how groundwater would be managed locally at the basin scale to achieve long term sustainability. Local agencies are responsible for the sustainable management of their groundwater basins; however, state agencies are responsible for ensuring local groundwater management achieves SGMA’s goals. SGMA provides the State Water Board and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) with oversight of groundwater resources to protect them for use by the communities, farms, and environmental resources that depend upon them. The Tulare Lake Subbasin (subbasin) is critically over drafted; on average, water is being pumped out of the basin faster than it is recharged by rain and other sources. Overdraft can cause the land surface to sink, potentially damaging infrastructure.

In addition, overdraft threatens groundwater levels and drinking water quality and could have disparate impacts on communities, many economically disadvantaged, that rely on shallow wells. Due to historic urban segregation, redlining, and the racialized exclusion from public benefits, people of color are often disparately impacted.

The State Water Board recognizes that significant efforts were made by local public agencies in the Tulare Lake Subbasin since the passage of SGMA to form groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) and then develop detailed technical and other information supporting the adoption and implementation of a groundwater sustainability plan (GSP) for the subbasin. Despite those efforts, in January of 2022, DWR reviewed the GSP to determine if it met SGMA’s requirements and found it to be incomplete. Following revisions made by the GSAs in the subbasin, DWR reevaluated the GSP in March of 2023, determined it to be inadequate, and referred the subbasin to the State Water Board, as required by SGMA. Consistent with SGMA, the State Water Board may now consider whether to designate the Tulare Lake Subbasin as a “probationary basin,” a term that is used in SGMA to describe the first stage of state intervention.

The goals of this executive summary are to:

  • Describe SGMA and the State Water Board’s state intervention process to provide context for the State Water Board’s upcoming Tulare Lake Subbasin Probationary Hearing (Probationary Hearing).
  • Briefly describe the demographics, geology, and hydrology of the Tulare Lake Subbasin; and
  • Summarize the recommendations by State Water Board staff, which are actions the State Water Board could take at the subbasin Probationary Hearing. These recommendations are to:
    • Designate the subbasin probationary. In the short term, this would mean most groundwater pumpers in the basin would need to start measuring their groundwater extractions, report them to the State Water Board, and pay fees. State Water Board staff recommends that most domestic household users (people who use less than two acre feet per year for domestic purposes only) be exempt from reporting extractions and paying fees.
    • Identify certain deficiencies (issues with the subbasin’s current groundwater sustainability plan) and potential actions to address them.
    • Not exclude any portions of the subbasin from the probationary status.
    • Require people who extract more than 500 acre feet per year of groundwater from the subbasin to install and use meters to measure their groundwater extractions.
    • Shift the reporting deadline for groundwater extractors from February 1 of each year to December 1.

The complete Draft Tulare Lake Subbasin GSP Assessment Staff Report (Draft Staff Report) provides a full discussion of SGMA and state intervention, background and current conditions in the subbasin, and State Water Board staff’s detailed recommendations to the State Water Board. Section references in this Executive Summary refer to the corresponding section in the Draft Staff Report.

SGMA and State Intervention (Section 2)

SGMA established a new framework for groundwater management in California. SGMA requires local agencies to form GSAs in high and medium priority basins and to develop and implement GSPs. GSAs are responsible for achieving long term sustainable management of their groundwater basins that avoids certain undesirable results within 20 years of implementing their GSPs.

When DWR, in consultation with the State Water Board, deems the GSP or GSPs in a high or medium priority basin inadequate (Wat. Code, § 10734.2, subd.) DWR refers the basin to the State Water Board for a determination as to whether to begin the state intervention process (Wat. Code, § 10735). State intervention is additional to local management and intended to be temporary, and is a twostep process:

  • The first step under SGMA is for the State Water Board to determine, through a public process, whether to place the basin on probation.
  • In the second step, through a public process, the State Water Board may implement an Interim Plan for the basin. This can only happen if deficiencies are not fixed after at least one year of the basin being on probation.

In determining whether to put a basin on probation, the State Water Board analyzes whether deficiencies identified by DWR were sufficiently addressed prior to the probationary hearing. As part of its analysis, and as reflected in State Water Board Resolution 20210050, Condemning Racism, Xenophobia, Bigotry, and Racial Injustice and Strengthening Commitment to Racial Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Access and Anti Racism, the State Water Board considers the impacts of basin noncompliance on vulnerable communities, including communities of color.

During a probationary period, GSAs would have time to resolve deficiencies identified in their GSPs and the State Water Board would collect data on groundwater extractions, collect fees from certain groundwater users, and may conduct additional investigations. Importantly, the GSA retains its authorities and responsibilities and must continue to implement its GSP regardless of if the basin is in probation.

Basin Description (Section 3)

Located in California’s Central Valley in the southern portion of the San Joaquin Valley, the Tulare Lake Subbasin (Figure 1) is bounded to the north by the Kings Subbasin, the northeast by the Kaweah Subbasin, the southeast by the Tule Subbasin, the south by the Kern Subbasin, the southwest by the Kettleman Plain Subbasin, and to the northwest by the Westside Subbasin. The Subbasin covers approximately 535,869 acres or about 837 square miles.

The subbasin contains six localized urban areas, including the cities of Corcoran, Lemoore, Hanford, and the communities of Armona, Home Garden, Stratford, and Kettleman City. According to the Census Block Group Data 2022, the Tulare Lake Subbasin has an estimated population of 145,933 people as of 2022. Most of the land within the subbasin and surrounding areas is used for growing crops and raising livestock. The primary land use designations for urban land are residential, commercial, and industrial. The Tulare Lake Subbasin is currently managed by five GSAs, and the full list of member agencies can be found in Section 3.

Beneficial uses of groundwater in the subbasin include drinking water, agriculture, environment, and oil and gas production. The subbasin contains several aquifers, which are bodies of rock and/or sand and soil that hold groundwater. These aquifers are separated by layers of clay, which slows the movement of water between aquifers and can act as a barrier. The GSP divided the subbasin into three different aquifer zones relevant to groundwater management:

  • A-zone: is the shallowest aquifer and is generally about 100 feet deep from the surface.
  • B-zone: is below the A-zone and is separated from the other zones by clay layers. This zone is approximately 100 to 700 feet deep.
  • C-zone: is below the B-zone and is separated from the B-zone by a thick clay layer that extends underground across much of the San Joaquin Valley. The aquifer below this thick clay layer behaves differently than the shallow aquifers because of physical properties. The C-zone is approximately more than 700 feet deep in the subbasin.

Groundwater is the main source of water for agricultural and urban land uses, but surface water is also available as a resource. The Kings River is the largest and most consistent source of surface water to the subbasin. Currently, both local and imported surface water is delivered through at least 34 conveyance systems (rivers, streams, canals, and diversions) throughout the subbasin (2022 GSP).

For more information on the history, demographics, economy, governance context, groundwater levels, groundwater quality, and subsidence in the subbasin, please refer to Section 3.

Recommendations for State Water Board Action (Section 4)

SGMA states, “in those circumstances where a local groundwater management agency is not managing its groundwater sustainably, the State needs to protect the resource until it is determined that a local groundwater management agency can sustainably manage the groundwater basin or subbasin.” In March 2023, DWR determined the Tulare Lake Subbasin 2022 GSP to be inadequate. State Water Board staff agree with this determination. Now, the State Water Board may determine whether a probationary designation is warranted. State Water Board staff have reviewed the GSP and the DWR staff reports documenting DWR’s review of the GSP.

Staff recommends the State Water Board designate the subbasin as probationary, and note the following:

The GSP will allow substantial impacts to people who rely on domestic wells for drinking, bathing, food preparation, and cleaning, as well as impacts to critical infrastructure such as canals, levees, and the aquifer itself within the subbasin. These undesirable results are likely to occur to an extent in the subbasin that will prevent the subbasin from reaching sustainability by 2040, as required by SGMA. Designating the subbasin probationary is critical for getting the subbasin back on track to achieve sustainability by 2040.

Section 4 of the Draft Staff Report explains State Water Board staff recommendations for a potential probationary designation of the subbasin. These recommendations are described below.

GSP Deficiencies and Potential Actions to Address Deficiencies (Section 4.1)

State Water Board staff have identified specific deficiencies in the Tulare Lake Subbasin 2022 GSP and have outlined potential corrective actions to address those specific deficiencies. The Draft Staff Report also incorporates deficiencies identified by DWR’s determination. Deficiencies that have been identified within the GSP relate to:

  1. Chronic lowering of groundwater levels with insufficient management criteria.
  2. Continued land subsidence (sinking).
  3. Further degradation of groundwater quality.

A summary of the GSP deficiencies and corrective actions are described in further detail below.

To end State Water Board intervention in a groundwater basin, GSAs in that basin must demonstrate their ability and willingness to manage groundwater sustainably and address the issues that caused state intervention to occur. Ultimately, the State Water Board will evaluate any updated and adopted GSP as a whole and will determine whether the GSAs have addressed the deficiencies, whether the GSP is consistent with SGMA, and whether the GSAs are implementing the GSP in a manner that the State Water Board finds will likely achieve sustainability in the subbasin.

Defining and Avoiding Undesirable Results Related to Chronic Lowering of Groundwater Levels (Deficiency GL – Section 4.1.1)

Under SGMA, one piece of achieving the sustainability objective for a basin is avoiding “chronic lowering of groundwater levels indicating a significant and unreasonable depletion of supply if continued over the planning and implementation horizon.” Lowering groundwater levels can cause shallow wells to go dry or reduce their productivity, increase the energy costs of pumping, bring polluted water closer to well screens (the area where groundwater enters a well), or reduce water available for deep rooted plants. Lowering groundwater levels also makes it more difficult to avoid other, related undesirable results caused by groundwater conditions, including land subsidence and depletions of interconnected surface water.

In the Tulare Lake Subbasin, the A-zone and B-zone aquifers are most susceptible to impacts from lowering of groundwater levels, as there are many domestic wells and community water system wells screened in the A and B zones.

DWR concluded that the Tulare Lake Subbasin 2022 GSP does not adequately justify its approach for developing sustainable management criteria for lowering groundwater levels. These are the criteria the GSAs will use to evaluate success in the subbasin. In addition, DWR notes that the sustainable management criteria would likely result in significant and unreasonable impacts to people who rely on shallow wells.

State Water Board staff have built on DWR’s analysis, noting the GSP does not clearly address the likelihood that all the wells in the shallow part of the basin (the A-zone) could go dry based on the GSP’s approach, nor does it identify the wells that could be impacted by the GSP’s current approach. Staff also describe gaps in the GSAs’ proposed well impact mitigation proposal and the feasibility of avoiding chronic lowering of groundwater levels with the projects and management actions proposed in the GSP.

Staff propose potential actions to address the deficiency, including the following:

  • Define the undesirable result for the chronic lowering of groundwater levels. Meaningfully engage with users in the subbasin to seek and incorporate feedback on a definition of an undesirable result for chronic lowering of groundwater levels specific to the subbasin and protective of drinking water users.
  • Fill data gaps in the subbasin water budget and use the data to develop quantitative criteria that avoid undesirable results.
  • Fill data gaps in the groundwater level monitoring network, especially in the A-zone.
  • Commit to accessible, comprehensive, and appropriately funded well impact mitigation programs that mitigate for impacts to wells affected by lowering of groundwater levels and degradation of water quality.
  • Plan ahead for drought conditions and commit to managing demand.
  • Describe the relationship between minimum thresholds (the lowest acceptable level) for each sustainability indicator. Revise groundwater level minimum thresholds as necessary to avoid undesirable results for other sustainability indicators.

Defining and Avoiding Undesirable Results Related to Land Subsidence (Deficiency LS – Section 4.1.2)


Another consideration under SGMA is avoiding “significant and unreasonable land subsidence that substantially interferes with surface land uses.” (Wat. Code, § 10721, subd. (x).) Subsidence is the sinking of land caused by groundwater removal. Land subsidence from excessive groundwater extraction can cause irreversible damages to infrastructure (bridges, roads, pipelines, canals, levees, and buildings) and aqueduct operations. Land subsidence can also diminish the storage capacity of an aquifer, which reduces the available groundwater storage for the future. Importantly, subsidence and its reductions on groundwater storage are often irreversible.

In the Tulare Lake Subbasin, subsidence is primarily caused by the removal of water from the clay layers by groundwater extraction, which causes irreversible compaction and sinking of the land surface. In the subbasin, pumping from the C-zone is likely the primary cause of subsidence.

DWR concluded that the Tulare Lake Subbasin 2022 GSP does not adequately justify its approach for developing sustainable management criteria for subsidence, the criteria that the GSAs will use to evaluate success in the subbasin. DWR also noted that the GSP does not clearly define how it avoids “significant and unreasonable effects on critical infrastructure.” (2022 GSP Inadequate Determination, p. 17.)

State Water Board staff have built on DWR’s analysis, noting that subsidence may substantially increase flooding risks, and have concluded that the 2022 GSP lacks a detailed analysis of the effects of subsidence on all beneficial uses and users within the subbasin. State Water Board staff therefore conclude that significant and unreasonable subsidence may occur under the 2022 GSP.

Potential actions to address the subsidence deficiency include the following:

  • Clearly describe the subsidence conditions that would result in an undesirable result for the basin and provide enough detail that associated minimum thresholds can be determined. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 23, § 354.28.)
  • Develop quantitative criteria that avoid undesirable results and conform with agreements with other agencies.
  • Consult with flood management agencies and expand the GSP’s analysis of land subsidence impacts on flood infrastructure.
  • Plan ahead to avoid significant and unreasonable land subsidence

Degraded Groundwater Quality (Deficiency GWQ – Section 4.1.3)

Another consideration under SGMA is avoiding “significant and unreasonable degraded water quality, including the migration of contaminant plumes that impair water supplies.” (Wat. Code, § 10721, subd. (x).) Degradation of water quality can limit local water supplies and beneficial uses, and SGMA requires GSAs to consider the interests of all beneficial uses and users of groundwater, including municipal well operators and public water systems. (Wat. Code, § 10723.2.)
Water quality degradation that significantly and unreasonably affects the supply or suitability of groundwater for use in drinking water systems is an undesirable result.

In the Tulare Lake Subbasin, water quality degradation could occur in any of the three zones.
DWR concluded the Tulare Lake Subbasin 2022 GSP does not adequately justify its approach for developing sustainable management criteria for Degraded Water Quality, the criteria that the GSAs will use to evaluate success in the subbasin. DWR also recommended that the GSA describe the historic and current groundwater quality conditions within the principal aquifers including the primary groundwater quality constituents (pollutants) identified.

State Water Board staff have built on DWR’s analysis, noting concerns with the monitoring network and monitoring frequency and an absence of projects and management actions identified to avoid undesirable results.

Potential actions to address the water quality sustainable management criteria deficiency include the following:

  • Update the definition of an undesirable result to be consistent with GSP Regulations.(The GSP Regulations are set forth in Subchapter 2 of Chapter 1.5 of Division 2 of Title 23 of the California Code of Regulations.)
  • Update minimum thresholds to be consistent with GSP Regulations.
  • Update measurable objectives to be consistent with GSP Regulations.
  • Update the water quality monitoring plan in the 2022 GSP to be consistent with GSP regulations.
  • Plan additional sampling when water quality is degraded.

Additional Staff Recommendations for State Water Board Action (Sections 4.24.4)


Exclusions from Probationary Status

The State Water Board must exclude from probation any portions of the basin for which a GSA demonstrates compliance with the sustainability goal. (Wat. Code, § 10735.2, subd. (e).) Staff believe no GSAs in the Tulare Lake Subbasin have demonstrated compliance with the sustainability goal. All five GSAs have adopted and are implementing the same GSP, which DWR has determined to be inadequate. State Water Board staff recommend the State Water Board not exclude any portions of the subbasin from the probationary designation.


Modification to Water Year and Reporting Dates

State Water Board staff do not recommend the State Water Board modify the water year, but staff do recommend modifying the extraction reporting deadline for groundwater extraction reports required pursuant to Water Code section 5202 by changing it from February 1 to December 1.


Requirements for Installation and Use of Measuring Devices

As part of a probationary designation, the State Water Board may require groundwater extraction reporters to install and use measuring devices, such as flow meters, for measuring their groundwater extractions.

State Water Board staff recommend the State Water Board:

  • Require people extracting more than two acre feet per year for any reason to report their groundwater extractions.
  • Require people extracting more than 500 acre feet per year to install and use meters that meet the requirements of Cal. Code Regs., tit. 23, § 1042 on all their production wells within the subbasin.
  • Exclude people who extract two acre feet or less per year for domestic uses only from reporting requirements and paying fees. This exception includes most household users.

Conclusion

Despite significant efforts by GSAs in the Tulare Lake Subbasin, State Water Board staff’s analysis supports DWR’s determination that the Tulare Lake Subbasin 2022 GSP is inadequate. The current plan allows substantial impacts to communities who rely on domestic wells and to critical infrastructure. The Tulare Lake Subbasin is therefore unlikely to achieve sustainability by 2040, as required by SGMA.

Addressing deficiencies related to lowering groundwater levels and groundwater quality degradation is also consistent with the State Water Board’s mission to ensure every Californian has safe and affordable drinking water as reflected in its commitment to the Human Right to Water and administration of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund.

State Water Board staff recommend probationary status as a critical next step for getting the subbasin back on track to achieve sustainability and protect groundwater resources for the communities, farms, and environmental resources that depend on them.


Figure 1: Location of the Tulare Lake Subbasin

South Fork Kings Approves Online Portal to Support Well Registration, Future Sustainability Programs

At their October Board meeting, the South Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency Board discussed and approved a proposal by MLJ Environmental to develop an online portal. The immediate use of the portal will be to register existing wells within the boundaries of the South Fork Kings GSA. The portal can be expanded to support future sustainability programs.

To provide a user-friendly experience for landowners, the portal will be similar in function to the Kings River Water Quality Coalition member portal. Coalition members will have the ability to streamline well registration using their member portal to share contact information and other data, such as crop, parcel, and management practices with the South Fork Kings GSA portal. No data from the Coalition member would be accessed or shared with the South Fork Kings GSA without the member’s consent. The South Fork Kings GSA will provide instructional workshops and tools to assist landowners with account setup and use.

It is anticipated the portal will be available for use by early 2023. Those landowners or residents who use less than 2 acre-feet (an acre foot is approximately 326,000 gallons) per year of groundwater will not be required to register their wells. The contract with MLJ Environmental is a 4-year commitment with a monthly subscription cost of $3,400. If additional GSAs decide to subscribe to the portal with MLJ Environmental, the monthly subscription will be reduced based on the number of participating GSAs. Currently, one additional GSA, the North Fork Kings GSA, has approved participating in the portal subscription.


Tulare Lake Subbasin Not Compliant with SGMA According to State

In early 2022, the Department of Water Resources completed its evaluation of the Tulare Lake Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) and determined that it was Incomplete and that the five Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) were required to address deficiencies identified by DWR. The deficiencies centered around the Sustainable Management Criteria for degraded water quality, land subsidence, and the chronic lowering of groundwater levels. In response to this determination, the Tulare Lake Subbasin GSAs submitted a revised Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) to DWR in July of this year.

Four of the five GSAs including South Fork Kings, Mid-Kings River, El Rico, and Tri-County Water Authority adopted the same submitted revised GSP; however, the Southwest Kings GSA adopted a revised GSP with the following additional language:

 “Surface Storage of Groundwater – To the extent allowable by law, the GSAs will work with local and state regulatory agencies to prevent the inefficient storage of groundwater in shallow basins. This practice results in a significant loss of the pumped groundwater to evaporation. Avoiding these losses to evaporation would help in reducing groundwater pumping from the deep aquifer and lessen subsidence.”

Because the Southwest Kings GSA approval of the GSP is subject to additional language not found in the version adopted by the other four GSAs, DWR determined that the Southwest Kings GSA adopted a different GSP. As a result, the Tulare Lake Subbasin is no longer managed by multiple GSAs through a single GSP, but by multiple GSPs implemented by multiple GSAs. Consequently, a coordination agreement is required between the two GSPs.

The DWR reached out for a consultation with the State Water Resources Control Board as part of the intervention process for non-compliant GSPs. The State Water Board requested that DWR continue to review the revised GSPs for the Tulare Lake Subbasin to determine whether the technical deficiencies in the originally submitted GSP have been addressed. The State Water Board anticipates that it will wait to exercise its SGMA intervention authorities with respect to the Tulare Lake Subbasin until DWR completes its full technical review of the GSPs, which is currently scheduled for completion in early 2023. In the meantime, DWR asked that the South Fork Kings and the other GSAs in the Tulare Lake Subbasin continue with implementation of their GSPs.


Innovative Helicopter-Based Technology is Mapping Groundwater in the State, including over South Fork Kings GSA

South Fork Kings GSA landowners may see low-flying helicopter towing equipment over next several weeks

November 10, 2021

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is using an innovative, helicopter-based technology to gather information about the state’s groundwater aquifer structure to support drought response and implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

Beginning November 19, 2021, DWR will conduct airborne electromagnetic (AEM) surveys of groundwater basins in the San Joaquin Valley in Kern, Tulare, and Kings counties, specifically in White Wolf, Kern County, Tulare Lake, Tule, and Kaweah. This includes areas over the South Fork Kings GSA. Landowners may see a low-flying helicopter towing a large hoop with scientific equipment approximately 100 feet above the ground surface. The helicopter crew may run test flights several days prior to the start of the surveys as well.

The helicopter, flown by experienced and licensed pilots, will make several passes over the survey areas.

“The data collected during these surveys will provide a better understanding of California’s groundwater systems, and in turn support more informed and sustainable groundwater management and drought preparedness and response approaches,” said Steven Springhorn, DWR’s SGMA Technical Assistance Manager.

Survey data creates an image of the subsurface down to a depth of about 1,000 feet below ground surface and provides information about large-scale aquifer structures and geology. This information supports the implementation of local groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs), which help local agencies like the South Fork Kings GSA sustainably manage groundwater during drought.

The AEM method is safe, and surveys have been conducted successfully in several locations throughout California. Surveys will be conducted during daylight hours only, and the helicopter will not fly over businesses, homes, other inhabitable structures, or confined animal feeding operations. The helicopter operator follows all established Federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations and their highest priority is public safety. Experienced pilots, who are specially trained for the low-level flying required for geophysical surveys, will operate the helicopter.

For more information about the AEM surveys, visit DWR’s AEM project website. For questions, please email AEM@water.ca.gov.

Conceptual diagram for how the AEM method works, CA DWR

For more information, watch DWR’s short 2-minute video on the AEM method, provided in both English and Spanish.

Survey conducted with local landowners sheds light on climate and drought perspectives

South Fork Kings GSA is conducting a series of surveys with landowners to better understand groundwater and land use. The first survey was designed to help the GSA understand landowners’ perspectives on how climate and drought impacts their groundwater supply.

Questions answered by respondents included: “On a scale of 0 (no threat) to 5 (greatly threatens), how much do you think climate change threatens your groundwater supply?” and “On a scale of 0 to 5, how would you rate the ability of your groundwater supply to recover from periods of drought?“.

The survey was conducted in June 2021, and results are now available to review on the survey webpage.

2022 Fiscal Year Updates

At the June 17th board meeting, the South Fork Kings Board approved the budget for the 2022 Fiscal Year. Here are a few items to note from that discussion.

Board levies $9/year assessment

The South Fork Kings GSA Board approved a resolution pursuant to South Fork Kings GSA’s 2018 Proposition 218 election, which authorized the Board to levy a five-year assessment up to the maximum of nine dollars and eighty cents per acre per year for SGMA implementation. The Board authorized an assessment of landowners for $9.00 per acre for fiscal year 2021-2022.

Board approves Geosyntec’s work orders for Fiscal Year 2022

Amer Hussain, a Geosyntec representative, presented task orders for the year as outlined by the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. Over the course of the year, Geosyntec will be performing the following task orders:

  1. Project Coordination/Meetings.
  2. Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) Pilot Test- Geosyntec will finalize the ASR report to be submitted to the Regional Water Quality Control Board and Division of Drinking Water.
  3. ASR CEQA Document- A programmatic Environmental Impact Report under CEQA will be drafted and submitted to the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
  4. Groundwater Monitoring Program- This work will involve collecting semi-annual water level measurements, reviewing and evaluating GSA thresholds and objectives, and upholding commitments to monitoring programs as stated in the Tulare Lake Subbasin’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).
  5. Database management.
  6. Grants- Geosyntec will research, manage and coordinate funding opportunities that South Fork Kings KGSA may qualify for and pursue.
  7. Project Design- Geosyntec will prepare and plan initial conceptual plans for project(s) and provide description of project(s) for the Tulare Lake Subbasin Annual Report.
  8. Surrounding Basin Coordination.
  9. Monitoring Well- The GSP identified five data gaps and outlined that five wells would be installed over time to gather that data. Geosyntec will coordinate the installation of a B-Zone well within a beneficial location to the GSA.

Separately, Geosyntec requested additional funds of $15,000 for the work they did to prepare the Water Year 2020 Annual Report on behalf of the Tulare Lake Subbasin. Additionally, Geosyntec also requested funding to prepare Water Year 2021’s Annual Report. Geosyntec anticipates that the Tulare Lake Subbasin will receive their comments from DWR on their GSP and then have 180 days to respond to these comments. Geosyntec is tasked with responding to these comments.

SFKGSA is only responsible for 15% of the fees charged to the Tulare Lake Subbasin for Annual Report work.

The Board approved these items.

Land IQ will provide important data to calculate groundwater extraction in the region

A one year contract with Land IQ was also approved by the South Fork Kings GSA Board. Land IQ will provide South Fork Kings GSA with evapotranspiration data, precipitation data, and land-use/crop data at a parcel level. This data will then be used to calculate groundwater extraction information.  Amer Hussain explained that in these calculations, surface water that is brought into the region will have to be subtracted. Land IQ will be directly contracted with South Fork Kings GSA to carry out this work.


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